The Public Sauna in Arima, 1927
The men, tired of rebelling against
the depths of the woods during a week of
labor, went in groups to hear
hot sauna stones sizzle
after having a mug of homemade brew.
They were handed a towel,
and told by the older ones
Let Marie wash you,
and as the löyly rose slowly from
the rocks on the kiuas,
the men took on their debates,
their sweat dripping off them
like blood from butchered animals
while politely they beat each other
with their soaked branches of birch.
Each one’s beer gut and birthmark
in very good company,
they joked, this is merely the heat of
an old woman’s spinning wheel.
And after they were done, the women
went in with the children,
counting down from ten in magic spells
that led harm out of their children’s bodies
and prevented more from
growing under the skin.
The women gossiped and assigned mock
futures to their little ones.
Jussi will become an honored
ladlewielder. Aarno could become
another Paavo Nurmi.
Teuvo will prevail in a contest of
mosquito killing, and Emil will
heal bruises with his midsummer’s dew.
Outside, the night sky is
writhing with spirits, but every
family member is home by midnight
in time to dream of
the clean work that could be had
so far away in Helsinki.